Ecological study of the forest litter meiofauna of a unique Scottish woodland
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The micro and meso-invertebrate abundance was measured, together with forest litter composition, in eight plots of differing vegetation (dominated by beech and birch) over a winter-spring period. The litter moisture content was a mean of 76% during the sampling period and the beech sites were the driest. The results were analysed using a suite of statistical techniques, together with data on protozoa, fungi and bacteria available from parallel research. Nematodes were analysed according to the trophic levels, which included microbial feeders, plant feeders and predators. The majority of arthropods found were the collembolan, Folsomia candida and cryptostigmatid mites, with very small quantities of other micro- and mesoarthropods (such as larvae and mesostigmatid mites). The microarthropod populations peaked in January and fell during subsequent months, while population numbers of nematodes showed a decrease between January and February, followed by an increase in March. ANOVA showed a significant date effect, but no site-date interactions for the population abundance of both nematodes and microarthropods. Ecological interactions of meiofauna were analysed by ANCOVA, stepwise regression, and correlation analysis. Examples of relationships revealed include positive relationships of plant-feeding nematodes (PFN) with microbial feeding nematodes (MFN), and of F. candida with cryptostigmatid mites. Other positive interactions were found for PFN, MFN, F. candida, cryptostigmatid and mesostigmatid mites with litter components, such as beech leaves and litter thickness, moisture and grass, and protozoa. Negative interactions were recorded for PFN, MFN, F. candida, cryptostigmatid and mesostigmatid mites with beech leaves, fungi, protozoa and bacteria. The results have highlighted a very complex structure of factors influencing the temporal and spatial dynamics of the forest litter community. It is suggested that temperature and moisture content particularly influence the invertebrates present. The invertebrates appear to be present in a range of microhabitats, which may have resulted in a reduced level of competition and a high level of positive interactions revealed.